The ACT’s peak welfare group has blasted Housing ACT’s new tenant relocation push as heartless. They have called on the government to pause the process and genuinely engage with the more than 300 households that received letters last week saying they would have to move from their current homes.
The ACT Council of Social Services said the letters advising tenants they would have to move because their homes had been earmarked for sale or redevelopment as part of the public housing renewal program came out of the blue for many of them.
ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said community groups had been inundated with calls from distressed tenants, many of whom had not heard from Housing ACT for years.
She said a mass mailout with a fact sheet and a list of community organisations’ telephone numbers was not appropriate for dealing with vulnerable people.
“I know of one person in their 80s who has received this letter and they were certainly not aware that their house was under this scheme,” Dr Campbell said.
“There have not been appropriate supportive processes for that individual, and I know it’s been the case for a number of other tenants as well.”
Dr Campbell said the organisations listed in the fact sheet had not received any more resources to deal with an influx of calls from concerned tenants.
“We need to meet with Housing ACT and with the Minister,” she said.
“They need to put a hold on these notices and reassure the tenants that they will be able to access good quality advocacy, that the individual circumstances of tenants will be heard and considered and responded to if it’s not appropriate to ask those individuals to move.
“I don’t think someone in their 80s with dementia should be forced out of their home.”
Dr Campbell said ACTCOSS supported in principle the efficient management of and reinvestment in housing stock but had deep concerns about how the renewal program was being implemented.
“We don’t understand the basis on which Housing ACT has selected some of these houses,” she said.
“There’s no transparency around how decisions have been made as to which tenants have received letters, apart from noting that some of those properties are on high-value land, or the tenants themselves have invested large amounts of their own money in the property to get them up to scratch.”
She said to ask someone in their 60s, 70s or 80s to leave a home with no clear reason after they have lived in it for decades is unconscionable.
Dr Campbell noted there may be some people in larger houses who would be willing to downsize, but more than 300 people were notified by post without any consideration of their individual circumstances, “whether or not they are well enough to move, whether or not they have invested large amounts of money in the property with the permission of the ACT Government, or whether or not they are carers for their grandchildren and children, whether or not they are living near support networks”.
“None of these things have been taken into account when these letters were sent out,” she said.
Housing Services Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said she believed the letters had been hand-delivered so tenants had an opportunity to discuss the matter.
Ms Vassarotti insisted that Housing ACT had been in touch with tenants before the letters were sent and that there would be a tailored response.
“We’ve been looking to contacting tenants all the way and also looking at the supports that are needed and also ensuring that community organisations are involved every step of the way,” she said.
However, she acknowledged that some tenants may have slipped through the cracks.
Ms Vassarotti said the community expected that the government would manage its housing stock properly and was renewing it.
“We’re actually providing homes to our tenants that are modern, accessible and cheaper to run,” she said.
“I would hope all community partners would welcome us really working to see how we can provide more public housing properties, something advocates call for the government to do all the time, and this is part of how we manage this stock.”
Ms Vassarotti said it would be difficult for some tenants, but Housing ACT staff would be working sensitively with tenants to match them to properties that meet their needs.
The letter says a dedicated Tenant Relocation Officer will provide tenants with personalised, one-on-one support, but Dr Campbell said tenants needed independent advice.